Construction sediment muddies city water

March 10, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Every time it rains, dirt from Random House Inc.'s construction of a warehouse washes into the stream that supplies Westminster's drinking water.

City officials say they can live with the situation for the moment by tapping Westminster's reservoir when sediment clouds the West Branch of the Patapsco River, the city's main water source. Meanwhile, Random House hopes to install a diversion system by late spring that will keep sediment out of the stream.

State and county specialists and inspectors say sediment control measures for the warehouse at the company's distribution center on Route 27 meet legal requirements.

But during rainstorms, fine clay sediment washes into the West Branch of the Patapsco. It is carried downstream to where Westminster's water treatment plant draws out 2.2 million gallons of water a day.

The sediment clogs plant filters, forcing the city to tap its reservoir rather than draw from the stream.

The city relies on water from the West Branch in May or June, when reservoir levels drop after spring rains end, according to Thomas B. Beyard, city public works director. By then, Random House plans to have solved the problem with a diversion system that will keep runoff from its storm-water pond out of the stream.

A sediment control plan that meets state standards but allows drinking water to be affected is unusual, said Bryan Snyder, Carroll Soil Conservation District sediment control plans reviewer. He said it is the first he has seen in 10 years of plan reviews.

"Neither side's to blame. You can blame Mother Nature for all the water she's dumped on us this year," Snyder said.

Westminster water plant operators began noticing the sediment soon after Random House started construction in October.

"Did it affect the [water] quality? No, because we were able to draw from elsewhere," Beyard said.

But treating the reservoir water is more expensive, he said. He said in a Dec. 6 letter to Snyder that reservoir water requires three to four times more frequent backwashing of filters than the West Branch water, at $70 per backwash.

New York-based Random House, the world's largest English-language general trade book publisher, is building a 70-foot-high, 95,700-square-foot warehouse adjacent to its Westminster distribution center. The warehouse is the equivalent of a five-story building. The project cost is estimated at $8 million. The expansion is expected to generate five jobs.

Random House has had a storm-water pond on its grounds since 1983, without any sediment problems, until the sod was stripped for construction of the warehouse, said William E. Gavin, director of administration.

Resodding will probably end the sediment problem, "but we'll still take some precautions to make sure it doesn't overflow," Gavin said. To keep the pond overflow out of the West Branch, the corporation will drain the storm-water pond to another pond on the property, he said.

Sediment control measures at best are 50 percent to 75 percent effective in trapping sediment from a construction site, Snyder said. "But fine clays can stay suspended [in water] for months. Even the best filters don't catch that and that's what's clogging the filters at the water treatment plant," he said.

Westminster officials also hope Random House will share the cost of a permanent solution to sediment and road oils that wash into the stream from Lucabaugh Mill Road.

After debating for several years who will pay for a storm drain system that would empty into the stream below the city's water intake, county government has designed the system.

Random House officials say the company wants to be a good neighbor, but Lucabaugh Mill Road runoff also comes from other businesses, Gavin said.

"If Random House is the cause alone, we'd be willing to participate to the hilt. But if we're just one of many causes, I think the county should assess that," he said.

County civil engineering manager Deborah Butler said the county hopes to advertise a storm drain system for Lucabaugh Mill Road for bid in May or June. She declined to give a cost estimate.

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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